This would-be romantic comedy is romance-free, comedy-free, charm-free, and apparently carb-free as well, with leading ladies Brittany Murphy and Holly Hunter looking toned but stringy and underfed.
Murphy plays Stacy, a television producer whose mother thinks that the cure for all heartache is Carly Simon music and whose dream is to work for Diane Sawyer.
She gets a job with sleazy syndicated talk-show host Kippie Kann (Kathy Bates), who specializes in topics like “my grandmother is a hooker” and “midgets gone wild.”
Stacy is living happily with her boyfriend Derek (Ron Livingston) until he is away on a business trip and she discovers through his PDA that he has been in touch with three of his old girlfriends without telling her. She contacts them in the guise of interviewing them for Kippie’s television show and gets into more and more trouble until a humiliating confrontation broadcast on live television.
With this movie and Sleepover, co-screenwriter Elisa Bell shares responsibility for two of the worst scripts of the summer. Both films are failed attempts at I Love Lucy-style hi-jinks but both suffer from the same disastrous inability to appreciate the importance of making sure the audience is on the side of the main character.
No matter how wacky Lucy was, we always did, in fact, love her. While Stacy thinks she is adorable (and Murphy clearly thinks so, too), she never gets us on her side. She lies, cheats, and is completely irresponsible with regard to her job. She lies to Derek’s ex-girlfriends, telling them she is interviewing them for segments of the television program, but she never in fact seems to do any work at all. She is a nervous wreck over Derek’s past and possible present involvement with his exes, but she never stops for a moment to think about what her own commitment is. And the ultimate conclusion is not just illogical, which can sometimes be okay in a movie, but it is nails-on-blackboard-level insincere and condescending, which cannot.
Furthermore, the jokes simply are not funny. There may be a way to find humor in canine digestive problems, out-of-control little people, a gynecological exam, nose-picking, eating disorders, and painfully humiliating betrayals, but not in this movie. Taking on Jerry Springer-style talk shows stopped being timely years ago; six years ago, Hope Floats skewered them in an efficient ten minutes. And hauling in a reference to the vastly better Working Girl only reminds us how bereft of that film’s heart and wit this one is.
Murphy has shown some quirky charm in supporting roles (Sidewalks of New York and Clueless) but is too insubstantial to hold the screen as a lead, disintegrating into annoying fluttery mannerisms. Hunter shows us a glimpse of an intriguingly conflicted character, but she seems to be acting in an entirely different film. Bates is just annoying. Livingston has an impossible task but his character wisely goes on a business trip at the beginning of the movie and is barely on screen so it does not really matter. The only character in the film with any appeal is the ex-girlfriend who really cares about Derek, played by the lovely Julianne Nicholson (Tully). It would be nice to see her in a better movie.
Parents should know that the movie has some strong material for a PG-13, including strong language, sexual references and situations, humor about genital warts, and a vibrator joke. Disabilities are portrayed as topics for comedy, including eating disorders and people with dwarfism.
Families who see this movie should talk about why it was so hard for Stacy to figure out what really bothered her about her relationship with Derek. They should talk about the ethics of Stacy’s treatment of Derek’s ex-girlfriends, her poor judgment in accepting a job she could not feel proud of, and her lack of professionalism in the office. Why did Barb make the choices she did? What will happen to her? Why do people watch television programs like Kippie’s?
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the far better The Runaway Bride.